The Joseph Rowntree Foundation research showed that while the Conservatives made substantial gains among low income voters and in Brexit voting areas, and probably had one of their best results among the working-class, people on low incomes were still more likely to vote for Labour.
Low income voters will be the battleground for the next election, said the foundation, with 42% of poorer voters voting Labour against 37% choosing the Conservatives, despite both parties increasing support by 8%. High income voters remain overwhelmingly Tory at 53% to 24% Labour voters, but the parties are neck-and-neck among manual workers at 39% each.
Brexit vs economy
The research, by Professor Matthew Goodwin at the University of Kent and Professor Oliver Heath at the Royal Holloway University for JRF found the Tory’s popularity rose on their messaging on Brexit, but Labour’s economic policies attracted them more.
Some of the most substantial advances by the Conservative party came in struggling non-metropolitan, pro-Brexit and Labour-held areas, but the Conservative party did not make sufficient progress in these areas to push seats from the red into the blue column. Yet Labour contained this advance, even capturing more than a dozen seats from the Conservatives that are estimated to have voted for Brexit.
People who thought their household’s financial situation had got worse during the year before the election were considerably more likely to back Labour than the Conservatives at 48% against 27%. In contrast, those who thought that their financial situation had got better (just 13%), were more likely to vote Conservative than Labour.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of JRF, said: “The Brexit vote showed why we need a new national mission to transform the prospects of people and places who have been left behind, yet the offer made by the main parties at the General Election fell far short.
“Neither of the main parties did enough to convince voters on low incomes they could offer meaningful change. This analysis shows that both of the main political parties have a lot of work to do to secure the votes of people on low incomes. The party that seizes this agenda could be more likely to secure a parliamentary majority at the next election. Otherwise we risk a standstill generation in British politics, where people’s prospects stagnate, or worse, fall backwards.”
Professor Matthew Goodwin said the results of the research shone a light on the battleground of British politics with many low income voters supporting Brexit and controls on immigration but simultaneously feeling that the economy is not working for people like them.
“In the end, many of these opted for Labour because of their economic worries but this deal is by no means signed, sealed and delivered. Both parties would do well to turn up the volume on their appeals to low income Britain, and those at risk of poverty, if they are to achieve what neither of them has so far managed –a parliamentary majority.”
Professor Oliver Heath said: “Gone are the days when people on low incomes and working class voters gave unconditional support to Labour. These groups are now up for grabs – and in the next election could swing either way. Political parties would be well advised to take their concerns seriously.”